Shigeyuki Mitsui Looks Back on 30 Years of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III

Shigeyuki Mitsui

Sneaker Freaker caught up with ASICS designer, Shigeyuki Mitsui, ahead of 30th anniversary celebrations for the truly iconic GEL-Lyte III. As part of the festivities, ASICS are bringing back the OG ‘Citrus’ colourway – reportedly for the last time ever. Mitsui-san was in Sydney for an exclusive sneaker sketching masterclass, and reflected on 35 years with the company, where he will be wrapping up his illustrious career soon.

Congratulations on 30 years of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III! What’s it like seeing different generations appreciate your design?
Thank you very much. I’m really glad it hasn’t disappeared. Younger consumers still love the design. Maybe it’s because there are many good collaborations for the GEL-Lyte III, so there are still people drawn to these designs.

One of the GL3’s main design points is its split tongue. Did you ever draft a version with a regular tongue?
No, the split tongue was intended for performance purposes. Normal tongues are prone to shifting to the side because of the foot’s natural movement. With a split tongue, there is no shift, even after running. This keeps a better fit, and is the main reason. The second reason is I wanted wearers to be able to put the shoes on without using their hands. With a normal tongue, you have to use your hands, but the split tongue allows hands-free fitting.

How did the OG ‘Citrus’ colour come about?
One of the most important things is the colour. When I helped design the previous GEL-Lyte models, I thought the colours were getting really bland. By the time I worked on the GEL-Lyte III, I knew consumers wanted a different colour.

I looked to the Pantone book for the right colour swatch. But, during that time, Pantone didn’t have that many colours like today. So, I decided to make my own swatch! I made a hundred swatches and sent it to the factory… Using a little bit of green plus yellow, it made ‘Citrus’. At the time, green wasn’t a particularly successful colour – blue, navy, grey and white were – so I made it a bit darker.

You’ve worked on developments like the IGS system. Did your experience in designing the GL3 help you with that?
Everybody knows the trend during the 1980s was ‘material function’. Nike had Air, adidas had Torsion, and ASICS had GEL. However, soft materials have great cushioning but no stability, and vice versa with hard materials. For long distance performance, we needed both cushioning and stability. I thought about adding structure to the GEL system beyond the material itself. So, I designed the IGS concept as a combination of using materials and structure.

Then, would you say developing technology in the last 20–30 years has changed the way you design your shoes?
For me, no. Structural design is easy [laughs] because I know how to draw. My main job with design was to look at the foot’s skeletal structure and work around that. I’m not just one person doing it all, I’m part of a wider design group. I did a lot of research when I was working on IGS.

Let’s talk about one of the first shoes you worked on: the Comp Royal.
Oh, you know about those! Did you know ASICS actually had branded bikes? They don’t produce them anymore. During that time, we worked on cycling shoes. ASICS don’t have any samples of the Comp Royal – but I do. Today, I still ride bikes. I have a Pinarello!

This is the last time ASICS are bringing back the OG ‘Citrus’ GEL-Lyte III. Is it a bittersweet feeling for you? Do you think in five, 10 years’ time, people will be hunting down the ‘Citrus’?
Oh yeah, for sure [it’s bittersweet]. I’m really happy that, 30 years on, people still like it. In 10 years – I can’t guess that – but if they still like it, I’ll be very happy because it’ll be very old. Honestly speaking, I also like all of the other colours and materials young designers and collaborators are using.

What’s your one piece of advice for budding sneaker designers?
The most important thing is to enjoy drawing. Everyone might start with different ideas and skills, but enjoying drawing means you’ll enjoy design.

You’re about to retire after 35 years with ASICS. What are you looking forward to doing?
I want to become an artist. I try to sketch as much as I can during my travels. To show the world my art and drawings is my biggest pleasure. I’ll be drawing, designing, and continuing to create, until the day I die. That means retirement from shoe design is coming – but I wouldn’t call it retiring. I think of it as graduating.

The OG ‘Citrus’ ASICS GEL-Lyte III releases on December 6.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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